NAMPA, Idaho — Landon Palmer of Nampa is just 11, but inside the rodeo arena at the Ford Idaho Center, he is already an old hand.
The boy has years of experience working as a child rodeo clown for the mutton-busting events at the annual Snake River Stampede. With bright makeup smeared across his face and dressed in suspenders, a large cowboy hat and baggy shorts tied with bandannas, Landon cuts a miniature version of the adult clowns who fling themselves into harm's way to distract bulls and help get riders to safety during the rodeo.
That's where Landon wants to be someday. He insists that he won't feel afraid facing down an animal many times his own size.
Mutton busting - which sees helmeted 5- to 7-year-olds clinging atop a sheep for as long as they are able - is a little lower-octane. But Landon takes his job just as seriously as the adults.
"Don't let the sheep hit the kids, and try to keep the sheep all together at one end, and help the kids," he said, describing his role.
A former mutton-buster himself, Landon understands the rules of the event and what makes a good competitor, which often comes down to how tight they can hold onto their sheep, he said.
And of course, he adds, "if they fall off or not."
Landon's grandfather, Dan, said the 11-year-old knows something about hanging on. Born with half a heart, Landon faced and overcame physical challenges early in his life with the same determination he shows in the arena.
At the nightly event (with a 10:45 a.m. matinee on Saturday,) Landon says he encourages the little competitors who ride well to celebrate, and comforts those who land in the dirt.
"If they hit the ground, I just run to them," he said. "I just run over there and I just make sure they are OK."
The Snake River Stampede runs July 20-24 in Nampa. To purchase tickets, or for more information, click here.
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